HL Deb 12 July 2001 vol 626 cc1178-80

3.25 p.m.

Baroness Young

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What purpose is intended to be achieved by the recently launched National Health Service advertising campaign, Have Your Say, aimed at 10 to 16 year-olds.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, the campaign aims to raise awareness among young people, parents and health professionals that young people are entitled to have their say in relation to their healthcare. This may include seeing a health professional unaccompanied if that is their wish. The campaign encourages young people to adopt a responsible approach to their healthcare needs.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is the noble Lord concerned that in most cases this activity will take place behind the backs of parents who will not know what their children are doing? Can he explain how that squares with a reply given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, to a Question for Written Answer? In that Written Answer the Lord Chancellor said that the Children Act 1989 was based on the Law Commission report of 1988 which in turn said that the law of parental responsibility included, to provide consent for medical treatment".—[Official Report, 10/7/01; col. WA 70.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, with reference to the information to be made available to young people if they access the website that is referred to in the poster campaign, the matter arose as a result of work done by nurses in London. Those nurses worked with young people in a variety of healthcare settings in particular with those who had long-term illness. They found that sometimes it was difficult for them to talk to professionals about health issues. I am sure that the information contained on the website will be invaluable to young people. On the more general issue raised by the noble Baroness, the aim of the campaign is to make sure that any competent young person, regardless of age, can seek medical advice and give valid consent to treatment. That is exactly what is stated in the guidance paper produced in 1994 by several professional bodies, including the British Medical Association. I also refer the noble Baroness to the Gillick ruling which established the current position that doctors and other health professionals are justified in giving advice and treatment to those under 16 without parental knowledge or consent provided certain conditions are met. One fully accepts that one wishes to involve parents as much as possible, but one must also face up to the fact that many young people do not always find it easy to do so. I believe that in those circumstances it is better that they still have access to professional advice.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can the Minister inform the House whether it is now possible to treat a dental patient under the age of 16 without requiring the parent or guardian to sign a form as has always been the practice? Has that rule been changed?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I understand that the position as I have just stated it applies to doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the main objective of the campaign is to encourage young people who may not otherwise do so to come forward for medical advice from professionals? Does the noble Lord also agree it is very important that young people believe that they will be understood and their own personal concerns taken into account and that, if so, they are more likely to cooperate and take the professional advice that they are given?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. The website to which people are referred as a result of the poster campaign was set up and is run by two practising general practitioners who specialise in adolescent healthcare. I have looked at some of the information that is available on the website. It is perfectly sensible and would be very applicable to young people who quite rightly seek information. Compared with other information obtainable on the Internet, it is very wholesome and sensible stuff.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, since the two groups in society which make the most intensive use of the health service are young people and elderly people and as they are the people who are most likely to be neglected in consultation processes, does the Minister agree that when we are seeking to improve the health service we should make as many opportunities as possible available to them in order to contribute to the future of a service which affects them so deeply?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend. In some parts of the country efforts are made by local statutory bodies to involve young people in discussions about health and other policy issues. For instance, the young people's parliament in Birmingham has a specific role and remit to pick up young people's concerns and opinions about health. They can then be fed back to the local health service. We should certainly encourage that.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, with reference to the Question of my noble friend Lady Young and the quotation from the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, is the Minister saying that the noble and learned Lord was misinformed?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

No, my Lords. My noble and learned friend put forward a general rule. He is not misinformed. But I have stated the position following the Gillick ruling.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, has there been a decline in teenage pregnancy rates? If so, can the Minister say to what he ascribes that decline?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, it is well known that the teenage pregnancy rate in this country is very high. Live birth rates per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 in 1996 were 22.9 per cent in the UK. While the US rate is double that figure, other European companies are doing much better; for instance, the Netherlands rate is 4.1 per cent. However, I understand that the latest figures that we have for 1999, compared with 1998, show a reduction in under-18s of 4 per cent and under-16s of 7 per cent. That is encouraging.

We clearly must hope that the trend continues. I believe that the way to achieve that is by a balanced approach; by making information available to young people as much as possible; by having these media campaigns; and by having local strategies. But clearly there is an awfully long way to go before we can get these teenage pregnancy rates down to any level that could be called acceptable.